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Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Chinese New Year preparations (and recipe for Barley Soyabean sweet soup 薏米腐竹糖水)

So, Chinese New Year has crept up on me this year. It seems like Christmas is just over and I've only barely had time to put away the Christmas decorations. Now, there's only two days to go before Chinese Lunar New Year. What more, the weather is warmer this year than I have come to expect from the last 10 or so years. Seems like I have skipped through to spring.

Anyhow, I have sprung into action. Did a bunch of shopping at the Wanchai market area. Lanterns, couplets and other auspicious decorations; candies and sweetmeats for my candy dish. I also bought the ingredients for a sweet soup 薏米腐竹糖水 barley soyabean sweet soup from the one shop with the best quality soya bean sheets.

Then I headed to the North Point market for fresh flowers and narcissus 水仙花 ($25 per bulb); and the ingredients for water chestnut cake, coconut pudding and taro pudding 芋頭糕. I'll hold off on making radish cake for the moment as I was given one.

Now for some recipes:

Barley soyabean sweet soup 薏米腐竹糖水

1 tael (両 or chinese ounce which is about 75 gm when I weighed at home) barley
1 tael gingko nut (白果)
1/2 - 1 tael soyabean sheets 腐竹
Rock sugar, to taste


  1. Wash barley and boil in a pot with about 2 litres of water. When boiling, turn to low heat. Partially cover the pot. Do not cover the pot tightly with a lid as the soup will bubble and boil over. 
  2. Crack the gingko nuts, remove the shell and peel off the brown skin.
  3. Add the peeled gingko after about an hour.
  4. Boil until the barley and the gingko are soft. Top up with water as needed. This should take a total of about 2 hours. Alternatively, to reduce boiling time, you could soak the barley grains for a few hours before boiling.
  5. Add soyabean sheets. These should soften and dissolve and the sweet soup will be milky white. (*). Add soyabean sheets until you get the desired "milkiness".
  6. Add rock sugar, according to taste. I was told by the shop staff that the the soyabean sheets will not dissolve if you add the sugar before the soyabean sheets. Never tested this theory.

* If the soyabean sheets do not dissolve quickly or at all, get them from a different source next time. The worse one I  have ever purchased was a "fresh" version from the Happy Valley market. The sheets not only did not dissolve, they were still chewy after 2 hours of boiling! Now, I always get the ingredients from Shang Cheung 生昌 Trading Co. at 11 Fleming Road Wan Chai.

芋頭糕 recipe next (I am rather annoyed I had forgotten to take pictures as I was cooking yesterday as I was in a rush to make my 6 pm appointment at the Apple shop to get my mobile phone fixed.)

Lunar New Year family gathering with a dish of Pork with Preserved Spinach (梅菜豬肉)

Chinese New Year is a time for family reunions, family dinners and celebration. Here is a dish that can be prepared ahead of time and yet will not require re-heating if you time it right. Pork with Preserved Spinach (梅菜豬肉 mui choi chu yok in Cantonese) can be prepared well ahead of time (even the day before) and steamed for about 1½ hours to finish. Perfect for a day of mahjong playing followed by dinner!

Have a great Lunar New Year and wishing you a safe, happy, healthy and prosperous Horse Year!恭喜發財!

Pork with Preserved Spinach (梅菜豬肉)

500g belly pork with skin (have the butcher cut you a piece which is about 3” wide)
1tbsp dark soya sauce
1 piece (about 100g) preserved spinach (sweet variety) (甜梅菜)
3 cloves garlic (skin removed)
3 slices ginger
1 tbsp dark soya sauce
1 tbsp rice wine
2tbsp light soya sauce
1 tsp salt
3 star anise
10 black peppercorns


  1. Wash preserved spinach very well to remove all sand. Cut preserved spinach into 2” lengths and soak in warm water. (Cut the stalk part of the vegetable to thin slices). After 10 minutes, drain water and squeeze the preserved spinach dry to remove some of the sweetness. Repeat this until the preserved spinach is not too sweet.

  2. Clean the pork, remove any hair from the skin. Place the pork in a saucepan with enough water to just cover the pork. Boil the pork in slow heat for 30 minutes. Remove and pat the pork dry with kitchen paper towels. Set the stock aside for later.
    Using a skewer, lightly prick all over the skin of the pork. Rub dark soya sauce all over the pork.

  3. Heat oil in a wok. The oil should be about 1” deep. Pick up the piece of marinaded pork, drip dry before dropping it “skin side down” into the oil. Watch out for splattering hot oil. This is the messiest part of the process!

  4. Let the skin fry till it is starting to crackle. Be sure not to burn it though. Then proceed to fry the other sides of the piece of pork to ensure that the dark soya sauce stays on the pork.

  5. Remove pork from wok and leave to cool.

  6. In a clean wok, dry fry the preserved spinach over medium heat for 5 minutes to remove the strong smell from the vegetable. Add in a pinch of salt. Dish up the preserved spinach.

  7. Add 1 tbsp of oil in the wok and fry the ginger and garlic till lightly browned. Add in the preserved spinach, ½ cup of stock, rice wine, star anise and black peppercorns. Lastly, add in the soya sauce and salt to taste. Different brands of dark and light soya sauces vary in saltiness so it is important to adjust according to taste. Bring ingredients to boil and the turn off the heat.

  8. Now to assemble the dish. Using a sharp knife, cut the piece of pork into ½” slices. Arrange the pork neatly “skin side down” in a claypot. Top with the cooked preserved spinach (see picture below).

  9. Place the claypot in a wok or steamer and steam for about 1½ hours. The dish is ready when the pork is melt in the mouth soft.

  10. Invert the claypot onto a deep serving dish and serve the pork hot with rice.

Note – if you are not using sweet preserved spinach, go through the same procedure as above. Make sure the saltiness is removed during soaking. When dry frying, add a teaspoon of sugar.